Delta Follows United, Eliminates Change Fees

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Following United Airlines’ announcement regarding the elimination of change fees, Delta Air Lines has also made improvements by removing change fees from most domestic flights.

Which flights are eligible for the change waiver?

Effective immediately, domestic tickets purchased for travel within the United States, to Puerto Rico and to the U.S. Virgin Islands in Delta’s first class, Premium Select, Comfort+ and main cabin will no longer incur change fees. Basic economy tickets are notably excluded from the waiver.

All newly purchased domestic and international flights, including those purchased in the basic economy cabin, are eligible for a change waiver through the end of 2020 as part of the airline’s COVID-19 response.

Additionally, canceled tickets purchased before April 17 can be turned into Delta vouchers good through December 2022. This option is available for all tickets including basic economy and international flights.

“We’ve said before that we need to approach flexibility differently than this industry has in the past, and today’s announcement builds on that promise to ensure we’re offering industry-leading flexibility, space and care to our customers,” Delta CEO Ed Bastian said in a press release. “We want our customers to book and travel with peace of mind, knowing that we’ll continue evaluating our policies to maintain the high standard of flexibility they expect.”

In the past, Delta charged $200 to change a nonrefundable domestic ticket, plus the price difference. With the new policy in effect, Delta passengers are still expected to pay the fare difference if the new ticket is more expensive. Delta said in a statement to NerdWallet that they have not decided whether you'll receive a voucher or a refund if the new ticket costs less. "Delta is evaluating further policy changes as a result of our announcement today and will make updates known as decisions are finalized. In the meantime, customers continue to have flexibility under the existing applicable COVID-19 waivers through Dec. 31, 2020," a spokesperson from the airline indicated.

Delta Air Lines collected about $830 million in change fees in 2019, according to the data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, so this fee elimination, while very customer-first, will be bad for its bottom line.

How does this change compare to United’s policy?

United Airlines was the first to announce its new change policy, and Delta’s is essentially the same: Domestic flights in the United States, Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands booked in most cabins of service (excluding basic economy) are eligible for a no-fee change.

United’s announcement also touched on standby tickets and same-day changes. Starting Jan. 1, 2021, passengers can get on a standby list for an earlier flight for free. Plus, if you’re a MileagePlus Premier flyer, you can request a same-day change to another flight at no additional cost.

All in all, Delta’s new change fee policies are pretty much the same as United’s, but United scores some extra points for its improved same-day options.

How does this change compare to American’s policy?

To no one's surprise, American Airlines also followed suit and announced similar policy adjustments.

The most notable difference is that American’s change fee waiver includes short-haul international flights to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean, in addition to all domestic flights. This applies when flying in the main cabin, premium economy, business class and first class. Again, basic economy flights are excluded from the policy.

Additionally, American is allowing customers to utilize the full travel voucher potential by offering refunds if the new ticket is less expensive. For example, your travel credit is worth $200, but the new flight is $150. You’ll receive a $50 voucher in that case. As mentioned earlier, Delta’s policy in these situations is unknown for the moment.

American also has introduced a standby change policy, starting Oct. 1, 2020. As long as your departure and destination cities are the same, all customers can change their domestic or international ticket to an earlier same-day flight for free. Elite flyers will be able to upgrade and same-day change their basic economy tickets.

Overall, Delta’s single alteration to the change-fee policy is nice but does not stack up to the list of changes American made.

How does this change compare to Southwest’s policy?

Southwest Airlines pioneered the no-change fee movement, and it's a big reason travelers may have opted to fly with them in the past. You’re required to pay the difference in fare, but that’s it. If you change your ticket to a less expensive ticket, you’re issued travel funds for the remainder to be used within one year of the original ticket (note that, as of July 28, 2022, Southwest travel funds no longer expire). In a recent move, Southwest now allows you to convert travel funds into Rapid Rewards points through Dec. 15. If you book your flight with Rapid Rewards points and decide to change it, the difference in points is issued back to your account.

Delta’s change also doesn’t stack up great here, considering Southwest will give you the fare difference back in the form of a credit and applies its no-change fee policy to all flights, including international flights.

The bottom line

As airlines continue to struggle with profits during the pandemic, they keep introducing new ways of attracting business. Not having to pay extra to change a flight in this climate can be a catalyst for more bookings. With the big three U.S. airlines implementing new change policies within 24 hours of each other, will the dominoes continue to fall throughout the industry?

Photo courtesy of Delta Air Lines.

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